The decision of the OECD to develop a Skills Strategy, in order to support its member countries in establishing their national level strategies has been timely. In many countries the meaning of skills, the way of thinking about how they are produced and how they are used, and about the role they can play in social and economic development and national competitiveness is being re-thought. There is a growing need for sharing experiences in this area and there is also a need to find common answers to the emerging new questions related particularly with the new post-crisis social and economic conditions.
The document entitled “Towards an OECD Skills Strategy”, which is already containing the key elements of a possible strategy, was presented last month, among others, to the Governing Board of the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation( CERI). One of the questions raised by the members of this body was related with the term skills. Some of them proposed that we use the term competence instead of skills, because they found the meaning of skills too narrow, too much connected to specific jobs. This was an important warning. We should not forget that many people in many countries might have difficulties to understand the messages of the skills strategy if the meaning they give to the term skills is not broad enough. There is an important communication task here. For example, when talking about skills, many people do not think of complex, high level skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration or skills related with creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is important to make it clear: skills may range from the simplest to the most complex and many of them are horizontal or generic. Many skills require very high level general cognitive, social or interpersonal and intrapersonal capacities. This must be appropriately stressed in the OECD Skills Strategy.
The document “Towards an OECD Skills Strategy” points to six possible areas of actions (including effective implementation). One of them is about the use of skills. I think this is the area that should receive the highest attention from those within the education sector because this is what seems to be the most often neglected in discussions about skills within the sector. As a university professor, teaching and studying educational policy and development, I often experience that my colleagues and students have a high level knowledge about how skills are produced but they have relatively little understanding of how they are used in real life, particularity in different jobs and in different workplaces. We should think about skills always in two dimensions: from both the formation and the utilisation perspective. We should understand better the dynamic connection, the inseparability and the mutual impact of these two dimensions. The production or the formation of skills and the use of them should be seen as two sides of the same coin. Those who are in the skills production side (educators, human developers, training providers etc.) should learn more about the complex reality of workplaces in enterprises or public services. We should know more about, for example, high performance workplaces, learning organisations, knowledge organisations and complex innovation processes within work organisations: otherwise we cannot understand the potential of skills in producing value. We should understand better the nature of entrepreneurship and innovation because these are the most important channels for skills to create new jobs and new value-creation possibilities. Only a deeper understanding of work organisations, technological transformations and human resource management processes, and a better apprehension of the dynamics of creating and implementing workplace level development strategies can show us how we can, though developing skills, enhance development and foster competitiveness.
The shift from the supply side towards the demand side seems to be one of the most promising aspects of the emerging Skills Strategy of the OECD, and this is what perhaps will be the most challenging component for those who are on the supply side. Hopefully those who are within the education sector can draw inspiration from understanding better the world where skills are used.
Professor of Education,ELTE University Budapest
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Governing Board member